Esther van Messel, Founder & CEOEsther van Messel, born 1965 in Vienna, lives in Switzerland and holds a BfA in Film & Television and in History from the University of Tel Aviv. In 1990, she joined Warner Bros. Israel and became Head of Distribution. From 1992 she produced international feature films and documentaries as Head of Co-Production and Sales for an independent production company in Zurich. Since 1998, Esther van Messel runs her own company FIRST HAND FILMS in Zurich and Berlin. FHF represents around 300 hand-picked films and 200 producers from all over the world and acts as Executive Producer for selected projects. FHF is present at all major festivals around the year, produces, sells and also distributes films theatrically in Swiss cinemas. Today, First Hand Films have been seen by hundreds of millions of people.
Nicole Biermaier, Head of Swiss Distribution
Born 1971 to a French speaking mother and a German father, lives and works in Zurich. Nicole spent some significant years of working and wandering in London and Paris.
She holds a Master of Arts and studied in Zurich at the Media Art department where she focused on interactive video, film, text, sound and experimented at the Film Department with 16mm essay film. At the University of Arts & ZKM in Karlsruhe it got even better, and she focused on experimental, essayistic documentary film. 2008-2010 Nicole researched at the Master class of Fine Arts within the field of expanded cinema.
Throughout all of that, Nicole earned her living in a number of well-known international companies with administrational work. She used the knowledge gained in such an economical environment for her production work within the arts. Since 2000, Nicole has been developing and conducting many works in the field of art, theatre or film. Her projects have been exhibited and screened internationally. At the same time she was teaching and mentoring at the Universities in Bern and Zurich.
Since June 2015 Nicole is part of the team at First Hand Films. She is happy to say goodbye to a time where earning money consisted of having 7 jobs or projects simultaneously and has many ideas for a fruit- and colourful future at the firm.
Shan Guo, Executive Assistant
Born and raised in China, lives in Germany, works in Zurich. She studied Communication and Cultural Management, Media Management in Germany, East Asian Art History, Film Studies and Japanese in Zurich. She worked as a journalist in German as well as in Chinese media industry, such as SWR 4 Bodensee Radio, Deutsche Welle and CCTV News Channel; and also worked as a technical coordinator assistant for an international film distributor in Germany.
Film is her passion, she believes film has a special magic – a freedom of expression, when filmmakers express their attitudes toward life and the world through their art. Shan is fascinated by this attractive magic of film. She loves to share good films with people worldwide, films that make people laugh, cry and think.
Lea Link, Swiss Distribution
Born and raised in Switzerland by a German mother and a Swiss father, Lea obtained her Bachelor degree in Graphic Design from the Hochschule Lucerne – Design & Art. She discovered her passion for cinema and films working at Fantoche, International Animation Film Festival, and while working as projectionist in an arthouse cinema. Now she’s excited to get to know the film world through distribution and world sales and is happy to be First Hand Films in-house graphic designer.
Shiran Shmerling, Sales & Finances
Born and raised in Switzerland, moved to Israel to study film and television at Tel Aviv University. After completing her Bachelor’s Degree, Shiran got an international MBA at Tel Aviv International School while also certifying for the international Skipper’s license. She speaks seven languages and is learning the eighth now, Arabic.
Before joining First Hand Films, Shiran grew her Airbnb business in Tel Aviv into an outstanding travel experience for her guests. At First Hand Films, Shiran is combining her varied experience and is in charge of the company’s financial controlling with a focus on international online sales, growing its digital offering.
Daniel Schneider, Production
Daniel strives to create playful work that doesn’t compromise on meaning. He holds an M.A. in Economics from the University of Zürich. When studying complex datasets and abstract economic models, he became fascinated by the power of visual communication and that of a good story, translating buck naked information into something relatable and joyful.
He previously worked as creative director and COO of a small creative agency in Switzerland for 3+ years and is now synchronizing creative and economic aspects of a colorful palette of film projects as a Junior Producer at FHF. He is currently based in Zürich.
Sarah Rathgeb, Production
Born and raised in the canton of Bern, Sarah completed her Bachelor’s degree in Directing and Production at the Zurich University of the Arts. She moved to Leipzig where she studied Media Arts and completed her Master’s degree in Directing at ECAL/Head in Lausanne and Geneva. At First Hand Films she works in production and uses her experience in film to acquire and supervise new projects.
Mirja Schnarwiler, Swiss Distribution Assistant
Born and raised in a small village near Lucerne, Mirja spent some time in New York after finishing high school, trying to figure out where to continue her studies. She then decided to stay close to home and attended the University of Lucerne, from where she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and communications in 2020. Led by her passion and love for movies she started an internship in film distribution. Now she looks forward to applying and improving the already acquired knowledge and skills as part of the distribution team at First Hand Films.